Chip Kelly takes responsibility
Chip Kelly met the NCAA announcement that it had banned him from college football for 18 months with characteristic straightforwardness. He didn't make excuses. He didn't blame someone else, even as the NCAA made clear that Kelly had been unaware that his staff had employed Willie Lyles in a manner not allowed by the NCAA manual.
One of Kelly's best assets as a coach is his ability to strip an issue of its trappings and deal with the core. He did that on the field, revving up the Ducks' offense to cram more plays into less time than just about any team in college football. He did that with the media, dismissing questions he deemed silly with clipped sarcasm. He did it with himself.
"I get irked when someone tells me they're grinding," Kelly once told me. "You know, 'This head coach really makes us grind.' Seriously? You're watching video! In an air-conditioned room! 'We're griiiinndding.' We're not digging a ditch."
And he did it again Wednesday.
"I want to apologize to the University of Oregon, all of its current and former players and their fans," Kelly said in a three-paragraph statement released by his current employer, the Philadelphia Eagles. "I accept my share of responsibility for the actions that led to the penalties."
Kelly is the first big name to suffer the consequences of the NCAA mandate to hold head coaches responsible for what happens on their watch. The Committee on Infractions slapped Kelly with a show-cause order -- NCAA jargon alert -- until Christmas Day 2014, effectively banning him from the college game.
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There's an asterisk here. Kelly left Oregon nearly six months ago to become the Eagles' head coach. We'll never know whether the committee would have banned Kelly as an active FBS head coach. It's certainly easier to get tough with a guy who walked out the door. But the statement that the committee could have made by banning a guy who went 46-7 (.811) and won three Pac-12 championships in four seasons would have been hard to resist.
Forcing Oregon to hire a head coach in June would have caused more upheaval than the orderly transition that took place when Kelly resigned. New head coach Mark Helfrich and new offensive coordinator Scott Frost, both promoted from within, spent spring practice experimenting with how they will work together to run the offense during a game. Imagine if they had to figure that out during August workouts.
Kelly reiterated Wednesday that the NCAA investigation "had no impact on my decision to leave Oregon for Philadelphia." Some guys want to try out the NFL. Some guys want to return to the East Coast. It makes sense.
On the day of his first game as the Ducks head coach four years ago, Kelly chuckled at the deference shown to him when he became the boss. People who once would have looked right through him now tried to cater to his every need. He told me his philosophy about the suck-ups and the loss of privacy that came with being the head coach.
"You can't be a selective participant," Kelly said. "It goes with the territory."
That's why it comes as no surprise that Kelly accepted the black mark that will go next to his name. You can't be a selective participant. The NCAA now holds the head coach responsible. Kelly was the head coach.
That means Kelly won't be able to execute a Bobby Petrino and leave his NFL job before his first season ends in order to return to the college game. But there's no reason that Kelly can't pull a Nick Saban and return after Year 2. If Kelly decides that the NFL is not for him, he will be as desirable then as he is now.
As the NCAA made clear, Kelly committed none of the violations himself. His résumé may be smudged, but his hands are clean. Any athletic director who reads the infractions case will be able to go to his president and trustees and make a case for Kelly.
That will happen, too, because Kelly is a proven winner. When Kelly awakens on Christmas 2014, it says here that one of his first gifts will be a phone call from an athletic director.
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